Tuesday, March 1, 2011

It depends on what the meaning of the word "IS" is!

During the first meeting of Arizona's Independent Redistricting Commission last Thursday, Linda McNulty framed questions to the five interviewees by saying that they (the IRC) wanted the public to be proud of both the final product (the district lines/maps) AND the process.

To that end, they voted that day to give themselves some time to reflect on the candidates, their applications and interviews.  So far, so good.  Thoughtfulness and reflection are good things.

The commission reconvened today at 1pm to complete the selection process.  After three people offered public comment (including this blogger), the commission went into executive session, for the apparent purpose of receiving legal counsel.

Emerging an hour and a half later, they promptly -- and without ANY public deliberation -- voted to appoint, by unanimous acclamation, Colleen Mathis to serve as commission chair for the next ten years.

Enter former President Bill Clinton.  "It depends on what the meaning of the word "IS" is."

Consider some of the meanings of the word, "deliberation."

de·lib·er·a·tion  (d-lb-rshn)n.
1. The act or process of deliberating.
2. deliberations Discussion and consideration of all sides of an issue: the deliberations of a jury.
3. Thoughtfulness in decision or action.
4. Leisureliness in motion or manner: The girl stacked the blocks with deliberation.

Following adjournment, the room erupted in a dull roar of many congratulations and handshakes, reporters asking questions of each of the five commissioners, and an undercurrent of concern about the complete absence of public deliberation.

This blogger asked three of the first four commissioners about this issue.

Democrat Jose Herrera flat out (emphatically) denied that ANY deliberation took place during the hour and a half long executive session.  I then asked if the entire time was taken up by the Assistant Attorney General, James E. Barton II, giving them legal advice.  Herrera claimed that was what happened.

Republican Richard Stertz described a process of discussion BY the COMMISSIONERS of each of the candidates.  When asked if that constituted deliberation outside of the public view, he denied it.  Then asked if he cared what the public thought about the fact that the deliberations were done privately, he skillfully danced (verbally) around the question, carefully avoiding any direct answer, though I posed it at least three times.

Democrat Linda McNulty also described deliberations and actually used that very word to describe what they had done.  However, when asked directly, she said that they actually had NOT made their decision about who to vote for until the motion was made to unanimously select Ms. Mathis.

Given that there was literally NO discussion after Ken Bennett struck the gavel to reconvene publicly after the executive session, prior to the motion being voted on, it seems -- on its face -- that the four commissioners DID deliberate behind closed doors for what should have been done in open, public session.

Two attorneys I spoke with gave interesting replies when I asked them about the propriety of the closed deliberations.  One said that he "could make an argument" that the selection of the fifth commissioner was a "personnel decision."  In which case, executive session would be appropriate.  Of course, when an attorney says he "could make an argument," that's a clear indication that the situation is, at best, questionable.

The other attorney expressed the belief that what the IRC had done today was illegal.

Don't get me wrong, Colleen Mathis is, by all observations, a fine person and will likely do well in her role as IRC chair.  However, in light of Commissioner McNulty declaring repeatedly last week her concern that the public be proud of the PROCESS they are about to undertake, the way the commission conducted itself today is a dubious start toward that goal.


  1. Thank you for the clarification. We will be watching. I am most concerned that there goal be to make competitive districts. Am I living in a dream world?

  2. You have every right to dream about/imagine an Arizona with competitive districts. It can happen.

  3. What we will really have to be on the lookout for is any hint of attempts by various members of the legislature to influence the process. It is supposed to be hands-off, but they will do everything sneaky they can to try and preserve their districts (or failing that at least preserve districts that are favorable to maintaining a partisan advantage.